Sean Ellis/Capital Press
Sean Ellis/Capital Press
NYSSA, Ore. — Onion yields and sizes in the Idaho-Eastern Oregon growing region were both bigger than normal this year.
Prices, however, are down near break-even for the 300 growers who produce roughly 25 percent of all the Spanish bulb onions consumed in the United States.
“We had a very good growing season and we had some good yields; quality looked very good and size is larger than normal,” said Snake River Produce Manager Kay Riley.
Riley said the result is a larger-than-average crop that has led to depressed prices at the moment, a situation exacerbated by a strong U.S. dollar and weak export market.
Bulb onion prices are off close to 50 percent from this time last year and are near the break-even price for farmers, he said.
Onion growers in the Treasure Valley region of Eastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho are under a federal marketing order and produce more than 1 billion pounds of bulb onions each year, making this the nation’s largest onion-growing region in terms of volume.
About 90 percent of the bulb onions grown in this area are yellows, while the rest are red and white varieties. Harvest usually begins in August and is mostly complete by the end of October.
There are 36 packing sheds in the valley and the industry’s annual economic impact is estimate at about $1.3 billion, making onions the backbone of the region’s economy.
Onion acres were close to 20,000 this year and production is about 10 percent more than last year, said Riley, marketing order chairman of the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee.
Growing conditions this year were superb and as a result, the area produced an unusually large amount of super colossals, the biggest bulb onion size.
“The crop is looking really good,” said Nyssa grower Paul Skeen, president of the Malheur County Onion Growers Association. “The one negative is that they’re actually too big. We have more super colossals than normal and less jumbos and mediums because of that. We may have a shortage of mediums and jumbos.”
The season got off to an early start, growing conditions were ideal and the oppressive heat that affected the crop the past two years skipped 2016, said Stuart Reitz, an Oregon State University cropping systems extension agent in Malheur County.
“Those onions just got bigger and bigger,” he said. “It was a good growing season so the onions naturally are big.”
Reitz said onion sizes were so big that a farmers cooperative in the area held a “biggest onion” contest this year and a lot of 3- pound onions were brought in. Super colossals are typically 1.5 to 2 pounds.
“There were some big ones out there, he said.
The good news, he added, is that quality is excellent. “There are some really nice looking onions out there.”